Poop Scoop

New baby? Feeling like you’re waist deep in dirty diapers? Forget diaper-collection services; just volunteer your infant for a poop study and researchers will take them off your hands for free. Dirty diapers, it seems, hold the key to measuring infant hormone levels.

Sex hormones, such as estrogen, are important for babies’ healthy development. But some endocrinologists worry that children are exposed to too much additional estrogen via soy formula, plant fertilizers, and even plastics, which could cause faster-than normal development and future problems with reproduction. However, few infants tolerate a frequent finger or heel prick, and so “very little is know about hormone levels in infants,” explains Michelle Lampl, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta.

Diapers, however, can be collected frequently and over a long period of time, perfect for a
longitudinal study. Practicing on eight to 10 diapers collected from each of 32 largely breast-fed
infants over 6 months, Lampl’s group perfected a technique for extracting hormone levels from the
poop, they reported online last month in Frontiers in Systems Biology.

They also perfected their diaper-collection technique. “It took years to fi nd the right nappy
and work out how you get the diaper fresh from the home to the lab,” says Lampl. The secret: a
cotton diaper, a Ziploc bag, and an ice pack.

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